London’s financial district, steeped in slavery, is facing its past
LONDON, October 6 (Reuters) – British ships have brought over 3 million enslaved Africans across the Atlantic. Lloyd’s of London insured many of these ships, which are chained below deck and are sometimes categorized as “perishable” by the underwriters of the market alongside livestock.
Lloyd’s involvement in the transatlantic slave trade isn’t part of the market’s permanent display in the modernist City Tower, but that’s set to change.
“The legacy of slavery is racism. You can’t do what you have to do to make slavery work unless you portray the enslaved people as less than human,” said Nick Draper, a former JPMorgan banker and founding director of the Center for the Study of the Legacies of British Slavery (LBS) at University College London
“We did it based on ethnicity, race and skin color. It’s embedded in British and European culture – we’re working on that right now.”
Along with other financial institutions in London, the insurance market had to face its racist past following the protests against Black Lives Matter last year.
Lloyd’s and the Bank of England have each hired a historian to look at their role in the slave trade and plan to publish the results next year.
The exhibitions will shed light on wealth shaped by a barbaric system and the role of some of the city’s most venerable grandees in keeping it afloat, including people like John Julius Angerstein, known as “the father of Lloyd’s”.
The 18th century industrial titan presided over the market when much of his business was based on the slave trade, and Lloyd’s says there is evidence that he was a trustee of goods in the Caribbean that housed enslaved people.
His portrait hangs in the market headquarters.
Chairman Bruce Carnegie-Brown wants Lloyd’s to speak openly about his past, but he doesn’t want paintings to be removed.
“I’d rather tell the story than break it off,” he told Reuters.
The African-Caribbean Insurance Network (ACIN), which was created to strengthen the representation of blacks and ethnic minorities in the London insurance market, disagrees. According to recommendations made to the London market last year, companies should “review organizational artifacts and remove anything with racist connotations”.
ACIN co-founder Junior Garba, a Lloyd’s underwriter, said it was better to put artifacts in museums.
“We cannot ignore history. We can explain it, we can enlighten it.”
The roots of the slave trade go deep and deep in London’s famous institutions.
Angerstein’s art collection with works by Rubens, Raphael and Rembrandt formed the nucleus of the London National Gallery when it was founded.
The gallery does not mention Angerstein’s links to the slave trade on its website. It is said that he was a member of the Committee to Support the Black Poor, an organization with abolitionist interests.
In an email to Reuters, the National Gallery announced that it is working with LBS to clarify the links between slave ownership, art collection and philanthropy in the UK and will publish initial results later this year. Angerstein will be included in this study.
According to Draper’s research, Angerstein was “a beneficiary of slavery in the marine insurance business on which he based his career and fortune”. There is no evidence that he was a slave trader.
A decision on what to do with the portraits of Angerstein and other prominent Lloyd names will be made after Victoria Lane, previously an archivist at Shakespeare’s Globe Theater, completes her review.
Lane, who started at Lloyd’s last month, sifts through the art, swords, silverware, and documents in the market. Lloyd’s declined to make her available for an interview.
The Bank of England removed 10 portraits and busts of former governors and directors with ties to the slave trade earlier this year and plans to explain their role in an exhibition at their museum next year, a spokesman said.
Statues of two politicians with ties to the slave trade are due to remain in Guildhall, the ceremonial center of the City of London, following an earlier decision to remove them.
The financial district city council will discuss a report this week recommending that memorials to two-time Lord Mayor William Beckford and merchant John Cass, both of whom made fortunes from slavery, be placed next to them with “explanatory plaques or notices”. Continue reading
According to the report, over 2,000 responses to two consultations indicated “low demand” for the statues to be removed.
Europe’s sugar colonies in the West Indies were built on slave labor from Africa in the 17th and 18th centuries, and the City of London was the financial center of transatlantic human trafficking.
Historians estimate that one to two thirds of the UK marine insurance market was in the slave trade in the 18th century.
Lloyd’s was one of three major British marine insurers of the 18th century. The other two, Royal Exchange and London Assurance, were later merged into insurers AXA (AXAF.PA) and RSA.
AXA apologized for its association with the slave trade and said it was working to make its workplace more inclusive.
RSA said there are aspects of its history that “do not reflect the values we have today,” adding that the company is committed to fighting injustice.
The legacy of the slavery industry continues, experts say.
According to a discussion paper released by UK regulators in July, fewer than 1 in 10 financial services leadership positions are held by blacks, Asians or other ethnic minorities.
The Bank of England has set a target that 18-20% of senior managers will be Black, Asian and ethnic minorities by February 2028, compared with 8.2% in November 2020.
The lack of progress in diversifying the city is putting pressure on the Financial Conduct Authority, and it said in July that executive salaries may need to be tied to improvements in hiring.
ACIN recommends insurance companies to set targets for ethnic minority representation at the highest level.
Only 2% of Lloyd’s of London’s nearly 50,000-strong insurance market is black. A third of all new hires are said to come from ethnic minorities.
“Legacy is part of the answer,” said Oliver Kent-Braham, co-founder of digital insurer Marshmallow.
“The important thing is that companies make sure they have genuinely unbiased interview processes that aren’t heavily geared towards junior levels … to ensure that companies are hiring from anywhere.”
Additional reporting by Bart Meijer in Amsterdam and Koh Gui Qing in New York; Edited by Carmel Crimmins
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